SAVE, South Florida’s longest serving organization dedicated to protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination, is facing awkward questions after it appears to have honored four men accused of taking part in a violent attack on two gay men.
Instinct reported on the attack when it occurred in May 2018 after the Miami Beach Pride Parade.
Dmitry Logunov and Rene Chalarca were severely beaten by four men as they walked home after celebrating LGBT Pride. Surveillance cameras captured the violent beating and helped lead to the four attackers’ arrests.
The four men – Pablo Reinaldo Romo-Figueroa, 21, Luis Alonso-Piovet, 20, Juan Carlos Lopez, 21, and Adonis Diaz, 21 – were soon arrested and charged with felony aggravated battery and could face up to 30 years in prison.
The Miami Herald reported at the time that Miami-Dade prosecutors also filed enhanced aggravated battery with prejudice hate crime charges.
All four pleaded not guilty to the charges and the cases are still pending.
South Florida Gay News reports that at the SAVE Champions of Equality gala two weeks ago on June 14, SAVE executive director Tony Lima recognized the four men telling the crowd they were “wrongly accused.”
In a Facebook video, Lima told SAVE supporters that the father of Lopez, openly gay Juan Lopez, reached out to SAVE weeks ago to arrange for his son to volunteer with the non-profit.
The father has maintained that his son could not have committed the violent hate crime and that he “loves LGBT.”
Since that time, Lima says the men have each spent a few hours volunteering with SAVE participating in tasks like data entry for the group. Additionally, the four purchased their own tickets to the annual gala.
In response, WLRN reports that SAVE has “placed Executive Director Tony Lima on paid administrative leave” while the organization conducts a thorough review of the episode. Lima has served as executive director for SAVE since 2013.
Terry Gonzalez-Chaveza, a spokesperson for the Office of the State Attorney, has issued a statement flatly denying any mistake in charging the men. “The defendants in the case are not wrongly accused,” said Gonzalez-Chaveza, according to SFGN.
Russell Cormican, a Broward County criminal defense attorney, told SFGN that the men may have decided to volunteer in an attempt at personal penance, or perhaps to ‘put their best face forward’ hoping it might help their cases.
SAVE also issued its own statement via Facebook.
“We want to extend our deepest apologies first, to the victims, and equally, to the community for any insensitivity that may have been conveyed on our behalf by their attendance and mention at the gala,” read the statement. “Our number one priority is to promote, protect and defend equality for all people, and it was never the intent of our organization to send a message that we in any way support, exonerate or justify the actions of these individuals.”
SAVE goes on to say the organization is “currently investigating this matter more thoroughly” and promises to provide “an update to our supporters and the community at large as soon as we gather all the appropriate information.”